The Effect of Television on Sexual Behavior
This study investigates what effect, if any, watching television has on
peoples sexual behavior.
The Population Problem
For populous countries such as China and India, population growth is seen
as a major and vexing problem. The governments of these nations worry that
soon there will be more people than the land can support.
The Chinese Crisis
Chinese officials are developing elaborate, expensive plans for more effective
family planning, including the development and delivery of better birth-control
services. The Chinese State Family
Planning Commission recently announced a series of new scientific and
technological projects for the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005). These include
the production of 15 new contraceptives and abortificant medicines.
The technologies under consideration in China have serious drawbacks. They
are costly, and are likely to be implemented inefficiently. It could take
many years -- perhaps decades -- before their intended effects reached a
satisfactory, or even noticeable level. Some different, better method is
The Indian Innovation
This past year, an official in India proposed that televisions be given to the nations citizens, because televisions are an effective form of birth control.
The official explained that people would rather watch television than engage in sexual intercourse:
In a mark of frustration over Indias perennially stalled family planning efforts, the countrys health minister has come up with a somewhat Orwellian proposal: distribute telvisino sets to the masses to keep their minds off procreation.... Chandreshwar Prasad Thakur suggested last month to the Indian parliament that "entertainment is an important component of the population policy." To drive down birth rates, he said, "we want people to watch television." Population experts, meanwhile, say the ministers proposal betrays the false assumption that Indias poor breed merely because they have nothing better to do. [Science, vol. 293, September 14, 2001, p. 1987.]
Perhaps for political reasons, the proposal was received with skepticism.
To Test the Television Theory
Is television-watching in fact an effective method for preventing sexual
intercourse? If so, there are phenomenal implications for family planning.
Prior research strongly suggests that sexual intercourse is a cause of
pregnancy. Therefore, if television prevents people from engaging in sexual
intercourse, it might also prevent pregnancy. Furthermore, a decrease in
the number of pregnancies might produce a lower birth rate.
With that in mind, this study set out to determine whether television-watching is an effective form of birth control.
The study consists of two parts -- a review of the literature on population,
fertility rate, and television use; and a survey.
The study concentrates on North America, because that is the region in
which television use is most widespread among a large population. If television-watching
does prevent sexual intercourse, the effect should be most easily discerned
in North America.
The survey consisted of eight questions. Each question involved a choice
between two activities, where each activity was illustrated with a picture.
Thus each question involved looking at a pair of photographs.
Female participants were shown photographs of males. Male participants
were shown photographs of females.
For each pair of pictures, the participant was asked to choose between
<> Engage in sexual intercourse with the individual in picture A; or
<> Watch individual B on television.
Figure 1 shows a page from the survey form that was given to female participants.
Figure 2 shows a page from the survey form that was given to male participants.
The subjects who took this study were college students in a physiological
psychology course and a psychology-capping course at a liberal arts college
in upstate New York. The sample group consisted of 35 individuals: 30 females
and five males. Their ages ranged from 18 years to 22 years.
Beforehand, a prospectus for the study was submitted to the colleges
Institutional Review Board (IRB), where it received approval.
The surveys were administered in a classroom setting. Subjects were asked to answer the questions honestly, and were told that all answers would remain anonymous. The surveys were collected after everyone was finished answering all of the questions.
Results, Part 1: Analysis of Historical Data
An analysis of several decades worth of statistical data concerning
(a) the number of television sets in use in North America and (b) the birth
rate in the United States reveals a simple relationship. As the number of
television sets increases, the birth rate decreases. This is shown in Figures
3 and 4.
In the period since televisions were introduced into the American home,
the average number of individuals per household has steadily decreased.
In 1940, before television was available, 7.1 percent of households consisted
of one person, and 9.3 percent consisted of seven persons. In 1940, these
two types of households comprised nearly equal percentages of the total
number of households. By 1950, 10.9 percent of households had one person,
while only 4.9 percent had seven persons. By 1990, the percent of one-person
households had increased to 24.5, while only 1.2 percent of households had
seven persons living in them. This data is represented in Figure 5.
During the entire period, the national birth rate was decreasing.
Based on this information, one can conclude that as television-watching
increases, the birth rate decreases.
Results, Part 2: The Survey Results
The survey was designed to test a hypothesis -- that individuals would
rather watch members of the opposite sex on television than to engage in
sexual intercourse with them.
The survey results were impressively clearcut.
All 35 subjects reported that they would rather watch the opposite sex
on television than engage in sexual intercourse with them. In making an
aggregate 240 choices, not one participant preferred sexual intercourse
to watching television.
The test was re-administered four weeks later. This was done to investigate
the re-test reliability for this instrument. There were 23 students in this
new sample -- 21 females and two males. Here too, all participants specified
that they would prefer to watch members of the opposite sex on television
than to engage in sexual intercourse with them.
As mentioned above, statistical analysis indicates that as the number of
television sets increases, the birth rate decreases. In light of our survey
results, this otherwise perplexing fact now makes sense. When people have
access to a television set, they would rather watch television than engage
in sexual intercourse.
Also as noted above, if individuals are not engaging in sexual intercourse,
then they are less likely to get pregnant (this is especially true of females),
and this in turn is likely to effect a decrease in the birth rate.
Television is an effective method of birth control. If the Chinese and
Indian governments supplied televisions to every household, each country
would see a dramatic drop in its birth rate.
"China to Make Population, Family Planning Law," (article dated
October, 2001). Available at http://www.cpirc.org.cn/e-policy5.htm
"Population, Top Challenge in Chinas Western Development,"
(article dated October, 2001). Available at http://www.cpirc.org.cn/enview1.htm
"SFPC Identifies Key Projects for Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005)," (article dated October, 2001). Available at http://www.sfpc.gov.cn/en/enews20011017-3.htm
© Copyright 2002 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
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